Hopkins has been girls basketball immortality in the state of Minnesota over the last decade, having reached the state championship in nine of the last 10 years.

The Royals were state champions in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, and 2019, and would have been heavy favorites in the 2020 championship against Farmington in what would have been NCAA National Player of the Year Paige Bueckers' final high school game.

Hopkins was also ranked No. 1 in the state and in the country, according to ESPNW.

Their last loss? March 17, 2018, in the state championship game against Eastview. Since then? Seventy-eight consecutive wins, tying Fosston for the state's all-time record.

Yet, Chaska was unfazed April 7 in the Class 4A semifinals. They were loose. They were not nervous. The bright lights of Target Center didn't seem to hinder them at all.

A game plan of forcing Hopkins to play a half-court style offense; a game of taking care of the basketball and sharing it with teammates was played perfectly.

That's what it took to keep Hopkins out of the state championship for only the second time in 11 years. That's what it took to keep Hopkins from passing Fosston with a 79th consecutive win.

That's what it took for Chaska to reach the state title game for the first time since 1998, only the second time in school history, in a 68-62 final.

"The whole week, this is what we were preparing for. We said, all the pressure is on them, and after all season the pressure being on us, it felt good. It made us feel relaxed," Hawks sophomore point guard Kennedy Sanders said.

For senior Kaylee Van Eps, this game started way back when, the first years of travel basketball. Her dad, Scott, on the sidelines as coach.

"It's everything I've dreamed of. When the game was over, I looked up into the crowd at my dad, and we just kind of locked eyes, and it was like this is what we've been dreaming of. It's such an amazing feeling. I didn't want this to be my last game. I want it to end on a win, with a state championship," Van Eps said.

Hopkins, averaging nearly 75 points per game this season, second only to Chaska's state quarterfinal opponent, Stillwater, was unable to generate offense through its defense, something that helped them to a 16-0 record.

Chaska had just three backcourt turnovers, one on the opening tip, and another in the waning seconds. Hopkins was credited with 12 fast-break points to 14 for the Hawks.

That meant Hopkins would have to score in a half-court set and after taking a 15-10 lead, they went seven minutes without a point. Chaska led 34-27 at halftime; the Royals shooting 29 percent from the field at the break.

"We knew they would come out strong. We worked on breaking their press every practice. We talked about all the ways to beat the pressure. About how they love to sneak behind the guard and tip the ball away. I knew I had to be strong with my inbound passes," Chaska junior Kendall Karrmann said.

Hopkins, though, didn't go down without a fight. Seven straight points, an 18-6 run in the second half pulled the Royals within one at 46-45.

The two teams traded baskets until Kennedy Sanders, coming off a 32-second breather on the bench, connected on a 3-pointer at 53-49. It was the start to a 12-5 run that helped Chaska put the game away.

"We reversed the ball and I was ready to shoot. I hadn't been scoring in a little bit. I just had a couple of turnovers, so when I got the ball, I just let it go. I knew it could be a momentum changer," said Sanders, who also quieted the Hopkins student section's "airball" chant.

In that stretch included a three-point play from Van Eps, who fell to the ground, pulled up by teammates in celebration. Eventually a 62-54 lead. A plus-25 when on the court for Chaska for the game. Van Eps also took a hard charge in the first half; as did fellow senior Kelsey Willems late in the game.

"For me, it's a lot of focus, getting into that game mentality. I just felt like tonight I had to be tough. I had a few shots blocked in the first half. I knew I had to be stronger. I knew I needed to fight hard to finish," Van Eps said.

Chaska, now 17-0 on the season, was credited with 18 assists to six for Hopkins. It was that unselfish basketball that spurred runs in each half.

Breaking the press at times with ease, Sanders, who finished with 21 points and six assists, was able to set-up game-scoring leader Mallory Heyer multiple times with looks under the basket.

Ashley Schuelke, playing nearly 20 minutes off the bench, also had six assists.

After falling behind 15-10, nine points from Nu Nu Agara, out of a media timeout, Chaska scored the next 14 points. Hopkins, meanwhile, missed 14 consecutive shots. Heyer and Sanders combined for nine points with Schuelke and Van Eps also making field goals.

A seven-point lead at halftime quickly became 13 as Van Eps scored twice inside, Sanders adding a pull-up jumper on the fast break.

Behind seven points from Nnaji, the Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year, Hopkins got within 46-45. Nnaji, sitting the final six-plus minutes in the first half with two fouls, was held to 2-of-9 shooting for nine total points.

Taylor Woodson (16 points, 13 rebounds), Agara (14 points, 10 rebounds) and Amaya Battle (13 points on 21 shots) were scoring leaders for Hopkins.

Heyer, who played all but the final 19 seconds after fouling out, led all players with 24 points and 13 rebounds on 11-of-17 shooting.

"We celebrated on the court, but instantly after we walked off the court, we said 'we are not done.' We have work to do in our gym tomorrow. We have to have the same mindset we had in the championship. We cannnot be satisfied with just winning this one," Karrmann said.

Chaska, beaten 66-33 by Minneapolis North in its only other state championship appearance, will play Rosemount at 8 p.m. on Friday, April 9, at Target Center.

Rosemount, the No. 4 seed in the South sub-state, beat Centennial 40-33 in the second Class 4A semifinal. The 10th-ranked Irish enter the finals with a 20-3 record, having lost twice to Farmington and once to Prior Lake.

Rosemount won the semifinal contest, outscoring Centennial 13-8 in the second half.

Other championship games will be Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa and Minneota in Class A, Albany versus Providence Academy in Class AA, and Marshall against Becker in Class AAA.

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